Why ‘Cotton Picking’ Needs to be Wiped From Our Vocabulary

The GSC panel weighs in on Brian Davis’ use of the word “cotton-picking” during an NBA broadcast.

During Oklahoma City’s regular-season finale, Thunder play-by-play announcer Brian Davis commented that Russell Westbrook was “out of his cotton-pickin’ mind” following a Westbrook assist. Since the phrase ‘cotton-picking’ has its roots in slavery, many took to social media to question Davis’ choice of words. Consequently, Davis was suspended for Game 1 of the Thunder’s playoff series against the Jazz. Davis apologized in a statement and on Facebook, accepting the punishment and acknowledging the situation while also saying it was unintentional. Was this a case of political correctness run amok after an unintentional slip-up, or is this part of a larger issue with how we choose our words?

Micah Wimmer, GSC Staff Writer

Cotton-picking is a term formed by America’s racist history, as it was predominantly used to refer to black persons — particularly slaves and sharecroppers — who were forced to pick cotton. Considering this origin and the aggressively hostile way it has historically been deployed, it’s no wonder Brian Davis’ use of the term caused an uproar. Unfortunately, despite its history, it remains a term that is used colloquially by many who give no thought to its origins or implications. I think that’s what happened with Davis — he used a term he’s heard (and perhaps used casually) before without thinking.

I don’t believe he intended to imply anything racist about Westbrook, but I also don’t think it’s possible to use this phrase and for it to not have racist implications. And with regards to political correctness, sure, this may not have been as big an issue a decade or so ago, but it’s a good thing to be more aware of the history of our language and how others may hear it, regardless of what we intend. Nothing is without context. I’m glad we are talking about this so that we may all become more thoughtful about those terms we use that we should not, and move to eliminate those that implicitly serve to subjugate, marginalize or stereotype people of color.

Gord Randall, GSC Staff Writer

Without hesitation, I can say that I believe this comment was unintentional. It’s a very common phrase among certain people (mostly Southerners), and while I admittedly don’t know the exact origin of its use, it wouldn’t be difficult to ascribe some racial undertones to it. For that reason, while I don’t blame Davis in the slightest, I think it’s a good thing this was highlighted, in the hopes the phrase can be slowly pushed out of our collective usage.

Brandon Anderson, GSC Staff Writer

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I do think the phrase was unintentional, but I don’t think that excuses it. I’ll be honest — as a white man, I had never before thought about the context of the phrase “cotton-picking,” where it came from and what it is referring to. Without having considered it before, “cotton-picking” almost felt to me like a nice alternative to a cuss word. I was watching the game live, and I didn’t even notice — but the moment I saw it on social media and actually stopped to think for a second, it was clear that’s a phrase that needs to be retired. I don’t think Davis meant anything wrong by saying it, but that doesn’t make it not harmful either. It is my white privilege that allowed me to never consider the words “cotton-picking” before, and I’m grateful to have now considered it in light of this. I’m sure Brian Davis will learn from this. I hope we all will.


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